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Rats optimally accumulate and discount evidence in a dynamic environment

Author(s): Piet, Alex; Hady, Ahmed El; Brody, Carlos D

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Abstract: How choices are made within noisy environments is a central question in the neuroscience of decision making. Previous work has characterized temporal accumulation of evidence for decision-making in static environments. However, real-world decision-making involves environments with statistics that change over time. This requires discounting old evidence that may no longer inform the current state of the world. Here we designed a rat behavioral task with a dynamic environment, to probe whether rodents can optimally discount evidence by adapting the timescale over which they accumulate it. Extending existing results about optimal inference in a dynamic environment, we show that the optimal timescale for evidence discounting depends on both the stimulus statistics and noise in sensory processing. We found that when both of these components were taken into account, rats accumulated and temporally discounted evidence almost optimally. Furthermore, we found that by changing the dynamics of the environment, experimenters could control the rats' accumulation timescale, switching them from accumulating over short timescales to accumulating over long timescales and back. The theoretical framework also makes quantitative predictions regarding the timing of changes of mind in the dynamic environment. This study establishes a quantitative behavioral framework to control and investigate neural mechanisms underlying the adaptive nature of evidence accumulation timescales and changes of mind.
Publication Date: 17-Oct-2020
Citation: Piet, A., Hady, A. E., & Brody, C. D. (2017). Rats optimally accumulate and discount evidence in a dynamic environment.
Pages: 1-51
Type of Material: Journal Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: Biorxiv
Version: Author's manuscript

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